Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

The Madonna Syndrome: Learning When and When Not to Talk Like a Brit

Photo_talks_Send“You look to be a man of rude health,” a colleague of my spouse told me when we were introduced at a pub one evening recently. From his genial tone, typical of the Brits I’ve met since moving to the U.K., I guessed that he meant I appeared outwardly robust with no discernible signs of pestilence. But the use of the word “rude” threw me. After all, I was born and raised in the Southern U.S., where rude is never a good thing. He must have noticed the puzzled look on my face because he hastily added, “Oh, sorry, you don’t say ‘rude health’ in America, do you? You say ‘ruddy health,’ I think.” I replied with a noncommittal shrug. After his compliment, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that few Americans apart from jut-jawed New England matriarchs and Teddy Roosevelt have ever boasted about being in “ruddy health.” We’re more partial to “fit as a fiddle,” or “right as rain,” or perhaps just exclaiming “I feel good!” and then attempting a few spirited but clumsy James Brown dance moves. Continue reading

Advertisements

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Closing Time: Business Hours Can Be Bafflingly Brief in a Seaside Town Bent on Work/Life Balance

IMG_20170530_182301“You only have five minutes to order,” cautioned the server at our neighbourhood Japanese restaurant to three newly arrived lunch seekers. “And then you have a maximum of half an hour to finish eating. We do close very soon.” As I gouged at my bento box with chopsticks at a table nearby, the would-be patrons weighed their desire for the restaurant’s good-but-not-great sushi and teriyaki fare against the time constraints and decided to try their luck elsewhere. They shuffled toward the exit, the server following impatiently inches behind.  As soon as the last of the interlopers cleared the threshold, he crisply flipped the Open/Closed sign on the door to the latter. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

My Two Cents Pence: Currency Exchanges with the Locals

IMG_20170308_174334Around the village where we live now, I’m known as “The Dollar Dimwit.”

Okay, nobody has actually called me that to my face. The denizens of Southsea, a picturesque portion of Portsmouth that abuts the English Channel, are far too polite to ridicule me directly—thus far. But I’m sure they’re thinking it as I blunder into their shops and restaurants and blurt, in my all-too-noticeable North American accent, “Is this item on sale for 12 dollars?” Or, “I’ll have the five-dollar lunch special, please.” Or, “The total comes to 3.50 you say? I think I have 50 cents in my pocket.” Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

The Curious Appeal of British Commercial Radio

ultrapop-2017-02-05-10-11-40Growing up in America in the ‘70s, radio was my faithful companion. Be it portable transistor, home stereo, or car dashboard module, I was forever twisting a dial or punching a channel pre-set button, searching for the music I loved.  Commercial radio was my connection to the tunes of the day for a long, long time, the first place I heard Blondie, Parliament, Lou Reed, Devo, Prince and countless other musical heroes. But as I got older, that connection frayed. Continue reading

Crap Year, Cool Tunes: The Top 10 Albums of 2016

1: David Bowie – Blackstar

fullsizerender-6Here, at long last, is my pick for the best album of 2016, weeks after that year sputtered ignominiously into oblivion and a full 11 days too late to honour the first anniversary of its maker’s passing. So much for my new year’s resolutions to be more efficient and punctual. Maybe I should start my best of 2017 list tomorrow.

But it’s fitting that my accolades for the brilliant “Blackstar” are behind schedule, seeing as how I put off listening to it for months following David Bowie’s death, a mere two days after the album’s release. Continue reading

Crap Year, Cool Tunes: The Top 10 Albums of 2016

2: Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

mkloveLondon-based singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka’s 2012 debut album, “Home Again,” was a nice enough collection of laid-back soul tunes, simmering with potential but modest in ambition. No one can accuse his follow-up of being modest. “Love & Hate” makes its grand intentions clear on the epic 10-minute opening cut, “Cold Little Heart.” Hot-shot producer Danger Mouse works with a lush palette here and on several other tracks, layering on the strings and gospel-choir backing vocals and bringing to mind “Hot Buttered Soul”-era Isaac Hayes. (On a couple of songs, such as the mournful “I’ll Never Love,” the versatile Mr. Mouse employs a stripped-down, folky approach reminiscent of ‘70s cult hero Terry Callier.) Kiwanuka seems to be in a far more serious mood this time around. He weighs in on the frustrations of being a “Black Man in a White World” and begs his demons to leave him be on the mesmerizing, slow-build title track.  It might be nice to hear a few more upbeat numbers on his next outing, both in tempo and tone– the mood on “Love & Hate” is unequivocally melancholy. But that’s a very minor quibble. With this glorious sophomore effort, Kiwanuka has gone from promising newcomer to one of our most important contemporary artists in a single stride.

Crap Year, Cool Tunes: The Top 10 Albums of 2016

3:  case/lang/veirs

img_20170112_114032Dear Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs: Please make 10 more albums together. At least. The origin of this astoundingly simpatico collaborative effort may have been casual—out of the blue, lang emailed Case and Veirs to propose recording together and they quickly agreed—but it’s clear that once in the studio, these seasoned solo artists worked diligently to blend their differing styles. The truest vocal collaboration is the opening track, “Atomic Number,” on which each takes a line in the verse.  lang’s hot-buttered-rum alto gives way to Veirs’ sweet folkie timbre which cedes to Case’s high, emotive twang before the trio unites in exquisite harmony on the chorus. It’s the aural equivalent of a flower unfolding to full bloom. On the rest of the tracks, one sings lead while her cohorts chime in with pitch-perfect backing vocals. Veirs, previously the least-known and most stylistically constrained of the three, really holds her own, co-writing every song and taking the reins on many, including “Song for Judee,” a lovely, evocative tribute to obscure ‘70s folk artist Judee Sill, who succumbed to drug addiction. “They found you with a needle in your arm,” Veirs sings, “Beloved books strewn around at your feet.”  Producer Tucker Martine, Veirs’ spouse, adds charming ‘60s pop touches here and there. As effortlessly gorgeous as this album sounds, Veirs has said that the recording process was difficult and there may not be a follow-up. Let’s hope that’s not true. This formidable threesome is too good to be a one-off. (And that countdown pun merits a score of zero.)

Crap Year, Cool Tunes: The Top 10 Albums of 2016

4: The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It

img_20170106_154802Like its title, the 1975’s sophomore album is alarmingly long, equal parts amusing and pretentious, and ultimately unforgettable. And like the act ranked #9 on my year-end countdown, these Manchester lads pay homage to/shamelessly steal from the ‘80s pop canon—at times they sound like INXS, Scritti Politti, and Howard Jones formed a supergroup. But “I Like It…” (I won’t even attempt an acronym) manages to be both an entertaining throwback and refreshingly forward-looking at the same time. The melodies and production can feel akin to scanning through one of those “Just Can’t Get Enough” new wave compilations, but frontman Matthew Healy—a polarizing Brit brat who regularly vexes critics with proclamations like “The world needs this album”—sings lyrics that are in general wittier, more explicit and definitely more social media-savvy than his Thatcher-era forebears. “You said I’m full of diseases, your eyes were full of regret,” Healy warbles pleasingly on the sublime ballad “Change of Heart,” before adding, “Then you took a picture of your salad and put it on the internet.” But just when you’ve given yourself over to the Gen X-meets-Millennial groove, the 1975 disperses a handful of downtempo change-ups into the mix, of which the dreamy six-and-a-half-minute title track is the standout. The U-turns in tone might be jarring in less assured hands and at 17 songs, “I Like It…” threatens to wear out its welcome. The fact that it never does is something of a mini-miracle and a credit to this ambitious and hugely exciting young band.